Center for High Achievement & Scholarly Engagement
University Honors Program

Honors Thesis Research Leads to Woman of Distinction Award

Rebecca Scherpelz StoryRebecca Scherpelz realizes now that work on her honors thesis about the child soldiers of northern Uganda actually started two years ago when she showed up for a campus screening of the video "Invisible Children."

There, she learned about the civil war that's been waged since 1986 and the children who are abducted by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army and forced to fight the Ugandan government.

She was impressed that a small group of California college-aged students made the video and struck that the war had been going on her entire life.

"Every day I've been alive, these children have been suffering in Uganda," the Dublin, Ohio, native said. "That concept blows me away every time I think of it. That really changed the direction of my life."

By fall of her junior year, Scherpelz was promoting screenings of the video on campus and taking Historiography with Dr. Vivian Deno. The subject of Uganda became her academic focus in the course. With Deno's help, she developed her research on the African nation into a more extensive paper and then decided to turn it into her honors thesis.

Scherpelz also pursued her interest outside the classroom. She spent two weeks in Uganda last summer as part of the Power of Children initiative of the Butler University Ambassadors for Children, which is raising $35,000 to build a school in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

"This will help empower the children of Uganda," she said. "They could become the lawyers and doctors and teachers who help out their countrymen in the north as the war winds down and people move home."

She participated in awareness rallies and lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., asking the State Department and United Nations to help negotiate peace in northern Uganda and requesting a $25 million contribution from the federal government toward the peace process. And she went to Chicago for an Invisible Children event where participants slept in cardboard boxes in a parking lot to call attention to the 2 million displaced Ugandans caught up in the war.

All this will be part of Scherpelz's thesis, "The Ghosts of Uganda: Violence, Terror and Atrocity and the Child Soldiers Who Suffer in Northern Uganda, 1986 to the Present."

"I went through the angry phase of 'The world isn't doing enough' to the passionate 'Just go help the kids,'" she said. "I hope the final result will be a combination of what's gone on and what can happen next. I looked at historical context to understand the present context and come up with a future projection of what happens if the war continues or there's peace."

Scherpelz's work has been recognized with Butler University's Woman of Distinction Award. She was applauded for her "outstanding servant leadership on campus, in our capital city, and overseas to bring awareness to the issues she researched in developing her honors thesis."

Lisa Markus, coordinator of the Honors Program, said what Scherpelz has done is a good example of how honors students at Butler pull together the different research opportunities they can experience.

"The best honors theses come from students like Rebecca, who use every opportunity they have and make it all fit together," Markus said. "You never know what the puzzle is going to look like, but it's always a puzzle only that student could put together."

And it doesn't end when the paper is finished, either. After graduation, Scherpelz heads back to Uganda, first to work in an orphanage in the northern part of the country for four weeks, then to Kampala to work with 10 Butler students and others to finish the school.

It opens in September.

"I get nervous about the travel," she admitted. "But the risk is not going and wondering what I could have done, could have helped with. It's worth it."